Movie Review: “The BFG” – A Big Heart

Written by Matt Butler July 07, 2016

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The BFG
hits me in my biggest soft spots: Disney, John Williams and Steven Spielberg. And I don’t just mean sweet spots in the sense of fanboy adoration, but also that these three form a triforce of sentimentality. And hey, for a story as innocent and irreverent as The BFG, seems like a trifecta to me. This makes The BFG (the movie) much harder for me to get critical with. I can say that I was intermittently listless, never altogether excited, and emotionally flatlined, but I can’t say that I was deceived.

Just like its titular character, The BFG is earnest from top-to-bottom. Spielberg jumps headlong into the spirited whimsy of Roald Dahl’s text with no abandon. Though there is a noticeable swirl of syrup added to an already sweet story. The BFG may be about a giant (Mark Rylance) stealing away an orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill), endangering her in a land ruled by fearsome child-chewing, gizzard-gulping butcher boys, but at its heart, it’s a story of two very different worlds lovingly brought together by the curiosity of the childlike mind. This is the emotional tone Spielberg zeroes in on, and just like with all his movies, it’s there from beginning to end.
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“Never get out of the bed. Never go to the window. Never look behind the curtain.”

This is one of the few divides I make with Spielberg’s style. On the one hand, a consistent tone is very important, it’s how you understand and prepare yourself mentally for the kind of movie you’re watching. It’s how I know that when I want childlike wonder, I’ll watch E.T., and when I want gritty action, I’ll watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, terror: Jaws, optimism: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so on and so forth. On the other hand, you risk flatlining. Even with Spielberg, there is still such thing as ‘too much of a good thing’, and there’s a point in The BFG where you find yourself hopelessly surrounded by fantastical wonderment. But even when Spielberg feels like a one-note director, just like his pal John Williams, he at least knows how to use that one note (or, in the case of Jaws, two notes?).

“Is hearin all the secret whisperings of the world”

Most of what you’d come to expect about Spielberg pops up in The BFG, a fully utilized frame, reflective imagery, stark streams of light, a John Williams score, absent parents, and a general sense of awe. These are the qualities I’ve yet to grow tired of in his films, since I know they’re Spielberg’s tools for visual and emotional sensation. I can’t think of any other director who’s been so positively consistent in his themes, style and cinematography (Michael Bay comes to mind for the negative). And since this is a kids flick, I have hopes some future moviemaker is going to walk out with some unconscious new understanding of how to stage a shot. This is the most consistently attractive feature of The BFG, its beauty, which is no small feat but only expected by Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer, Janusz Kamiński. Every corner of the frame is utilized to tell the story, with the easy, sweeping camera movements showing Kamiński’s attentiveness and playfulness.

“Hold your breaths, cross your fingers, here we go”

Though The BFG’s most evident accomplishment, I feel, is something far more juvenile. If you’ve read the book, you’d be familiar with the word ‘Frobscottle’ (one out of dozens of Dahl’s fantastical vernacular). Frobscottle, to refresh, is the coca-cola of Giant Country, the marked difference though, the bubbles don’t float up, they float down, mirroring where all the gas goes after you drink it. This makes a scene of Sophie and The BFG dining with Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) especially interesting. As soon as everyone in the dining room downs a glass of the green fizzy drink, everyone in the theatre knew what was coming, and we could barely contain our impetuous snickering. It goes above the usual fart gag by visualizes the gas as an explosion of green smoke. It’s not gross, it’s just silly, and it works perfectly for this kind of story, especially when the punchline is The Queen ripping a fierce one. Never thought Spielberg would be the one to demonstrate the art of the fart joke.BFG-Trailer-

“To Giant Country”

The BFG is best described as a bedtime story movie. You’ll probably fall asleep watching it, but it won’t keep you up at night. It’s definitive proof of how Spielberg’s maturity as a person has affected the maturity of his films. The BFG is a movie clearly crafted for his grandkids, and for once, that’s perfectly okay. Sure it’s dripping with sweetness, but The BFG never panders. You can’t roll your eyes at a movie like this, not just for risk of missing its visual splendour, but also because it’s clear The BFG has a big heart, a big childish heart. Though it is more light-hearted than light-footed, with an already thin plot stretched along a two-hour runtime, there’s enough good spirit and visual wonder to do Dahl’s book some well-deserved justice.

My Rating: 8/10

BFG “The Big Friendly Giant” movie poster 1

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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